In the latest instalment of our Women in COG series, we caught up with Dr Magdalena Skipper, Editor in Chief of Nature, to learn more about her experiences as a woman in science, and why she chose to move away from research, and into the field of scientific publishing.
Watch the full recording HERE or read our summary of the event below.
Scientific curiosity comes naturally to children, but not all maintain their fascination in the natural world into adulthood. Dr Magdalena Skipper’s innate inquisitiveness endured long beyond her early years, with her continued hunger for knowledge and problem-solving drawing her further into the world of science. Magdalena received overwhelming support and encouragement from her family, instilling the confidence that gender was not a barrier to achievement.
Undergraduate studies in genetics at the University of Nottingham confirmed Magdalena’s love for science and research, and a PhD at the University of Cambridge and a postdoc followed. However, the inherent specialisation of research became frustrating and the desire to work on broader, more general questions eventually drove Magdalena towards scientific publishing.
At Nature, Magdalena spent seven years as Senior Editor, during a time of huge excitement in the burgeoning fields of genetics and genomics. She then moved to Executive Editor at the Springer Nature Group, a change rooted in passion rather than constructed ideals of ‘progression’. “If you’re true to your own interest….to your own compass and desire, it will take you where you need to be. Whether that’s upwards, or in some other direction, that’s incidental.”
Asked how she dealt with everyday sexism, such as more focus on her appearance than her achievements, she says “I don’t have a magic solution for how to overcome these situations…my own way of dealing with it is not to give up, to soldier on…and persevere.” Magdalena agreed with a comment from the audience that one way forward is to include a wider diversity of voices rather than simply shouting louder in the existing male-dominated culture.
The importance of collaboration
Collaboration is a critical aspect of science, and one that Magdalena believes is significantly undervalued. “Within the research ecosystem we don’t value collaborations sufficiently… we glorify individuals as a proxy for work that has been done as part of a team.” A more creative approach to scientific collaborations is fundamental — for instance encouraging co-creation between different stakeholders and disciplines. Magdalena also emphasises the need to increase the evidence base to support the common experience that collaborations lead to more innovative research.
Throughout the pandemic, collaboration has been vital for Magdalena’s team at Nature. During the first lockdown the London-based team had to rapidly adapt to home working while being inundated with journal submissions when researchers found themselves excluded from the lab with more time to write. Her team rose to the challenge, maintaining their publishing schedule and conveying robust, rigorously evaluated research findings at pace during a time of uncertainty.
A word of advice
Keeping an open mind, and remembering that one size does not fit all are two key pieces of mentoring advice that Magdalena shared with the audience, as well as stressing the importance of ‘reverse mentorship’ – the concept of both mentees and mentors learning from each other, as opposed to a one-directional relationship.
Moving away from academia and towards scientific publishing is something many researchers may consider, however Magdalena advises this move isn’t for everyone. “If you are the kind of person who is driven by being the discoverer of new things…if this is what gets you out of bed…then don’t leave original research”. In her case, she enjoys the proximity to scientific discoveries and the ability to nurture and share them with others– frequently visiting labs, hearing the latest findings first-hand and bringing researchers together.
A hopeful outlook
The future of scientific publishing looks bright – Magdalena continues to drive change at Nature, incorporating several new topics beyond the natural sciences and breaking down the siloed boundaries between different disciplines. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of cross-disciplinary research, for example, molecular biology and social science research have both been critical to ensuring a successful vaccination programme. Alongside growing the range of research topics Nature incorporates, Magdalena is also eager to publish work from increasingly diverse researchers from varied demographics and across geographies. “Watch this space…these are great ambitions, but if we’re going to achieve any of it, we’re going to need your support…we’re in it together.”